Categories: Men in the Apocrypha
- Judas is sometimes called Judah.
- He was the third of five sons of Mattathias, a Hasmonean and a Jewish priest.
- Mattathias and his sons lived in Modein about 25 miles northwest of Jerusalem.
- His brothers’ names were Eleazar, Simon, Jochanan, and Jonathan.
- Since Hasmonean seems to be their family name, scholars think “Maccabeus” was a nickname for Judas. It is derived from an Aramaic word maqqaba, possibly meaning, “hammer,” or “the hammerer” in modern Hebrew. Supposedly, it reflects his ferociousness in battle.
- Some think Maccabee is an acronym for the Torah – mi kamokha ba‘elim YHWH, which is translated, “Who is like unto thee among the mighty, O Lord!”
- Judas was the leader of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid kings from 167 to 160 BCE.
- Antiochus Epiphanes IV was the reigning king. From 175 BCE onwards, he started issuing decrees outlawing various aspects of Judaism.
- In 167 BCE, he desecrated the temple by placing a statue of Zeus upon the altar and sacrificing swine.
- Shortly after that he sent a commander into the town of Modein to force Jews in the countryside to also worship the pagan gods. Mattathias was chosen as an example for others. Instead of worshiping the pagan god, he was “filled with a holy wrath” and killed the commander.
- Mattathias and his five sons fled the city and hid in the surrounding hills. Soon several others began joining the group until they numbered about 200.
- Prior to his death in 166 BCE, Mattathias decreed that Judas would assume leadership of the revolt.
- 1 Maccabees suggests Judas had all the qualifications to be a natural leader.
- The Greek army was well-trained and well-armed. The Jews were comprised of farmers and, at best, had home-made weapons such as slings.
- Judas’ strategy included avoiding battles head on and resorting to guerrilla warfare to keep the Greek armies off balance. It was very successful. Judas won a series of victories.
- Legend has it that early on he defeated a small Syrian army under the command of Appolonius, who was killed. He took possession of Appolonius’ sword and used it the rest of his days.
- After he won this battle, recruits flocked to join his army.
- Not long after, he defeated a larger Syrian army led by Seron. Judas was able to do this even though his troops were weak from hunger and disheartened by the size of the Syrian army. He was able to inspire his troops so that they would fight against all odds. This battle turned out to be a rout of the Syrians.
- Antiochus might have been able to put down this resistance, but he was preoccupied with business in Persia. He went there, leaving the government and his young son in the hands of his trusted adviser, Lysias.
- Lysias, then, sent Nicanor and Gorgias (who were both experienced fighters) back to Judea with an army exceeding 40,000. They were so sure they would win that they even took slave traders along with them who were prepared to buy the captives. The payment for the captured slaves was expected to defray the cost of the war.
- Judas and his men fasted, prayed, and repented. At best, he had between 3-6,000 soldiers who were poorly outfitted. But they believed in what they were doing.
- Vastly outnumbered, Judas again employed various strategies. His men were so adept at hiding in the mountains that the Syrians oftentimes couldn’t even pinpoint their location. While they were searching for them, Judas and his men would do an end run and attack somewhere else or in their camps. The commanders had little choice but to withdraw.
- This battle ended in victories over both Nicanor and Gorgias. To top it off, Judas was able to capture the money held by the slave traders.
- Eventually, Judas was ready to tackle the Syrian fortress. Filled not only with Syrians, but also with Hellenized Jews, the people in the fortress appealed to Lysias. He gathered a new and very large army and tried to invade Judah from the south.
- The armies clashed south of Jerusalem and even though Judas was again outnumbered, he was able to prevail. (The stories in 1 and 2 Maccabees differ at this point. 2 Maccabees claims this battle happened later and ended with a treaty of peace. 1 Maccabees claims there was another encounter later involving Lysias and Antiochus’ son, Eupator.)
- At this point, Judas was able to enter Jerusalem and his first order of business was to re-consecrate the Temple.
- Scholars disagree whether this happened in 165 or 164 BCE.
- Under Judas’ supervision the Temple was cleansed, a brand new altar was built, and new holy vessels were fashioned.
- When they looked for oil for the menorah, they found that most of it had been contaminated by the Syrians. There was only one container that had remained sealed.
- There was only enough oil in the container to burn the menorah for one day, but the oil miraculously lasted for eight days. During that length of time, they were able to prepare a lasting supply of oil for the menorah.
- An eight-day festival (Hanukkah) was instituted to commemorate this miracle of the oil.
- Judas purified the temple on the 25th of Kislev (which was December 14, 164 BCE – almost three years to the day of its defilement).
- After this, the Jews were free to worship and practice their religion. This lasted for about two years.
- The neighboring nations were not at all pleased that the Jews were once again in power. And with Jerusalem enjoying relative peace, Judas’ army was available to assist other Jewish communities that were having problems with the Greeks.
- Judah was the one who decided where to go and whom to help. For the most part these skirmishes usually turned out well. He even assigned his brothers to lead several campaigns, and they were also successful. Many pagan altars were destroyed and many people relocated to Jerusalem. Whatever wealth was taken as “spoils of war” was also returned to Jerusalem.
- A year later (163 BCE), Antiochus died. That ended the pursuit by Lysias, who had to go back to the capital to deal with Philip whom Antiochus appointed to be leader before his death.
- While the rulers were preoccupied with palace intrigue, Judas tried once again to invade the Syrian garrison.
- Some escaped and reported back to the king, reminding him of their previous faithfulness.
- This time Lysias went back with an army of more than 100,000 men, 20,000 cavalry, and elephants.
- Judas was forced to abandon his siege of the garrison.
- This time the Syrians had better success, and Judas retreated into Jerusalem.
- Because it was a sabbatical year when fields were left uncultivated, Judas found himself in a precarious position as his supplies continued to dwindle.
- When capture seemed imminent, Lysias and his army suddenly withdrew back to the capital to deal with more palace intrigue.
- The Jews believed this was God’s intervention in the matter.
- Before he left, Lysias negotiated a peaceful settlement with the Jews.
- Once again, the Jews were able to worship in accordance with their own laws and the Temple was returned to the Jews.
- While Lysias did prevail over Philip, he lost to Demetrius within a short time. Demetrius was actually the rightful heir to the throne.
- This should have resolved matters, but Antiochus had a young son (Eupator or Antiochus V) who was still around. Lysias would begin to work with him. Soon Demetrius would have them both killed.
- Unfortunately, after peace was established among the nations, there was infighting among the Jews.
- The influence of the Hellenizing Jews was tied to the fortunes of the Seleucids. After the Seleucids had been defeated, the Hellenizers lost a lot of power. The Hellenizing High Priest (Menelaus) was quickly deposed and killed.
- By this time, it was the prerogative of the ruler to appoint a new High Priest. Demetrius was no exception; he happened to pick one that really was descended from a priestly family.
- Even though another Hellenizer (Alcimus) was chosen, he found himself opposed by the Maccabees, and he had to flee to the Syrian king.
- Demetrius agreed that he should be High Priest and offered him protection.
- Demetrius sent an army led by Bacchides to Judea. Judas could not defeat them, so he and his men once again resorted to guerilla warfare. Neither army could claim victory.
- Soon Demetrius sent Nicanor back to Jerusalem. This occurred in 161 BCE. During this battle Nicanor was killed and another feast, “The Day of Nicanor,” was instituted.
- After this, Judas made a treaty with the Romans. This is the first recorded communication between Rome and the Jewish people.
- But Demetrius wasn’t pacified. He gathered another army, again led by Bacchides, and sent them to Judea. This army was so imposing that many of Judas’ men left the battlefield. Judas and those who remained to fight were killed in the Battle of Elasa just north of Jerusalem.
- His brothers were able to remove Judas’ body and bury it in the family grave in Modein.
- It would be another two decades before the Jewish people were totally independent.
- Amazingly, Judas had never been elected to office nor did he hold any type of official position. He did, however, have a huge influence on history by initiating an alliance with Rome against the Greeks.
- He was succeeded by his youngest brother, Jonathan, who continued his policies.
- The Hasmonean dynasty would continue through the family of his older brother, Simon.